Not much attention or credit is given to the city of Agra beyond the obvious fact that it is home to the world renowned Taj Mahal, but it was actually the former capital of the Mughal empire and subsequently has quite a bit more to offer than just its iconic mausoleum. In fact, Agra is home to not one, but three UNESCO World Heritage Sites (The Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri are the lesser known two), as well as various other historical points of interest. The Agra Fort, for example, is a wonderfully preserved red sandstone complex built in the 16th century, where you’ll spot lots of monkeys as well as catch a picture frame-like view of the Taj Mahal in the distance. The sites of Agra that are not wonders of the world tend to get a little overshadowed, but unfairly so, because they are well worth checking out.
Let’s be honest though: It’s nice to visit Agra for a few days and explore all that it has to offer, but we all know why we’re here, right? Just a few hours train ride away from Delhi, visiting the Taj Mahal is absolutely mandatory if you’ve ventured all the way to India. Built in the mid-17th century, completely of white marble, the Taj Mahal was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj is one of those masterpieces that transcends written description and even photographic representation. When you enter the grounds and catch your first glimpse of the iconic mausoleum from a few hundred meters away, it doesn’t quite look real. The intricacies of its design are magnified by its sheer size and framed perfectly by the pristinely manicured gardens, reflecting pools, and complimentary buildings that surround it. As beautiful as this colossus is from afar, it only becomes more incredible as you draw nearer and can truly appreciate the details and subtleties that make it a truly unforgettable site.
Other highlights of this city include…
Itmud-ad-Daulah – Also known as the “Baby Taj” is a tomb that is remarkably similar to the Taj Mahal, but pre-dates it and is considerably smaller. The grounds and gardens are nice to enjoy with a little bit less of a crowd than the Taj.
Sikandra – Just outside of Agra, Sikandra is home to the tomb of Akbar the Great, which is renowned as a masterpiece of Mughal architecture of the early 17th century.
Mehtab Bagh – Nice botanical gardens with a beautiful view from the opposite side of the river from the Taj Mahal. Grab a few pictures from a vantage point that many visitors never see.
Jama Masjid (Agra) – Opposite the Agra Fort, Jama Masjid is one of the larger mosques in India.